Why Are Sharks Endangered?
Sharks are endangered because of threats that are the result of human activities including shark finning and getting caught in fishing gear. These are apex predators (at the top of the food chain) and play an important role in the health of the oceans.
Without them, the entire food chain can be affected, negatively impacting the entire ecosystem. Sharks are long-lived, mature late, and produce few young making them especially vulnerable to exploitation.
Status of Feature Species
The biggest threat to sharks, skates, and rays is the overfishing and over-consumption of their meat, fins, and cartilage. Shark fins are particularly sought after for traditional Chinese medicine and shark fin soup which is considered a delicacy in Asia.
Commercial shark-finning is a practice where sharks are caught and their fins are cut off, then the body of the shark is discarded. Shark finning kills an estimated 100 million or more sharks globally per year.
Bycatch in commercial fisheries is also a major threat. Bycatch is the unintentional capture of a non-target species. Fisheries targeting tuna and billfish in particular have a high impact on sharks.
Rays and skates are also under threat from unintentional capture in commercial fisheries. They are greatly impacted by bottom trawl fisheries as they are mainly bottom dwellers. Bottom dwelling sharks are also impacted by this fishery.
Sharks depend on healthy ecosystems to survive and find prey. Habitat degradation includes effects from climate change, pollution, and destruction of areas like mangroves and reefs.
These areas are used by sharks for breeding and finding prey, and provide protected habitat for their young.
Photo credits: Karin Leonard-Marine Photobank, Adriano Rubino /Dreamstime